Two and a half years before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin became a household name for holding his knee on the neck of George Floyd, Jr., Chauvin did something else which has now landed him in legal jeopardy: he held his knee on the neck of a Minneapolis teenager. That incident, which occurred September 4, 2017, is now the subject of a second federal civil rights indictment against Chauvin — on top of the federal charges Chauvin faces in George Floyd’s death.
Like Floyd, the still-unknown 14-year-old in Chauvin’s second federal indictment told officers that he could not breathe, according to court filings. The boy’s mother also is said by Minnesota state prosecutors to have pleaded for Chauvin to take his knee off her son.
“About one minute later, the child’s mother pointed out that her son had said he could not breathe, and told Chauvin again to take his knee off the child as he was already handcuffed,” Minnesota prosecutors wrote in a little-noticed filing back in November. “Chauvin replied that he was a big guy and did not move.”
Chauvin’s second indictment—filed Thursday, May 6 but unsealed on Friday, May 7—contains but a brief reference to the facts of the Sept. 2017 case. It also does not contain the name of the juvenile suspect Chauvin held to the ground.
“Defendant Chauvin, without legal justification, held Juvenile 1 by the throat and struck Juvenile 1 multiple times in the head with a flashlight,” the first count of the indictment reads. “This offense included the use of a dangerous weapon — a flashlight — and resulted in bodily injury to Juvenile 1.”
The second count contains a few additional facts.
“Defendant Chauvin held his knee on the neck and the upper back of Juvenile 1 even after Juvenile 1 was lying prone, handcuffed, and unresisting,” the indictment continues. “This offense resulted in bodily injury to Juvenile 1.”
Both the indictment and a Department of Justice press release state that the juvenile was fourteen years old at the time and was a resident of Minneapolis.
Previous court documents filed in Chauvin’s separate state murder cases explain the incident further.
A Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence filed by state prosecutors on October November 12, 2020, recounts the Sept. 2017 incident this way — but it’s a description the state eventually walked back:
Chauvin was dispatched to a domestic assault call. The alleged victim told the officers that she had been assaulted by her two minor children, a son and daughter. The officers located the juvenile male laying on the floor in the back of the house. The officers advised the juvenile male that he was under arrest, but he did not comply with commands and directions from the officers. According to Chauvin, the juvenile male “then displayed active resistance to efforts to take him into custody” by “flailing his arms around.” The juvenile male, whom Chauvin described as “approximately 6’2” and at least 240 pounds,” backed himself into a corner and “stretched his legs forward.” Chauvin attempted to grab the juvenile male’s arms, but he would “continue to struggle and flail his arms around.” In his report, Chauvin wrote that he believed the juvenile male would “escalate his efforts to not be arrested,” and because of the juvenile male’s large size, Chauvin “deliver[ed] a few strikes to [the juvenile male] to impact his shoulders and hopefully allow control to be obtained.” Chauvin believed the juvenile male was “still providing active resistance,” but another officer was able to get one handcuff on the juvenile male. As the male kept pulling his arms in front of his body, Chauvin “applied a neck restraint,” and then was “able to roll [the juvenile male] onto his stomach and grab his left wrist so that cuffing could be completed.” Chauvin then “used body weight to pin [the juvenile male] to the floor.” During this time, the alleged victim came into the room and yelled at the officers. The juvenile male had blood coming from his left ear, so the officers requested an ambulance. Paramedics determined that the juvenile male needed stitches, and he was transported to the Hennepin County Medical Center.
By November 16, 2020, the state had looked into the incident further. A Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Other Evidence says the state’s original description of Chauvin’s arrest of the 14-year-old boy “was based entirely on the written reports of Officer Chauvin and another officer.” Prosecutors spent pages unpacking and describing what was on the video; however, the recording itself appears never to have been made public. Here’s the state’s description:
Since submitting [the previous] description to the Court . . . the State has obtained the body worn camera videos of this incident. Those videos show a far more violent and forceful treatment of this child than Chauvin describes in his report. The videos show Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force towards this child and complete disdain for his well-being.
The videos show that Officers Walls and Chauvin entered the home and began speaking with the mother at approximately 8:46 p.m. The mother immediately told the officers that she wanted her children removed from the house. The officers spent the next 36 minutes talking with the mother in the living room and kitchen about the alleged incident and had her fill out a complaint form, all while the two children were in their rooms in the back of the house. After obtaining the written complaint form, Officers Walls and Chauvin proceeded down a short hallway towards the juvenile male’s bedroom.
At 9:12:49, as he approached the bedroom door, Officer Walls told the child to come out of the bedroom. The child was laying on the floor looking at his cell phone. Officer Wells told the child to stand up because he was under arrest. The child responded that he was not under arrest, and added that his mother was drunk and had assaulted him. The child tried to talk with the officers about his mother. As both officers approached the child, Officer Walls said he would not tell him one more time to stand up and yelled “stand up.” The child said they could not touch him in his own house.
At 9:13:22, a mere 33 seconds after telling him to come out of the room, both officers grabbed the child. At that point in time, the child was backed up against his bedroom wall. Officer Walls told the child to get on his stomach, and when he did not, Chauvin hit the child with his flashlight, just eight seconds after first grabbing the child. Two seconds later, Chauvin grabbed the child’s throat and hit him again in the head with his flashlight. The child cried out that they were hurting him, and to stop, and called out “mom.” Chauvin told Officer Walls to use his Taser on the child, but Walls did not have a Taser. At 9:14:15, Chauvin applied a neck restraint, causing the child to lose consciousness and go to the ground. Chauvin and Walls placed him in the prone position and handcuffed him behind his back while the child’s mother pleaded with them not to kill her son and told her son to stop resisting.
About a minute after going to the ground, the child began repeatedly telling the officers that he could not breathe, and his mother told Chauvin to take his knee off her son. About one minute later, the child’s mother pointed out that her son had said he could not breathe, and told Chauvin again to take his knee off the child as he was already handcuffed. Chauvin replied that he was a big guy and did not move. The mother asked a third time for Chauvin to take his knee off her son, and Chauvin replied that the child was breathing. The mother repeated that her son was in handcuffs, and told Chauvin a fourth time that he should take his knee off her son. The mother also said that Chauvin had hit her son with a flashlight and hurt him, and he was handcuffed now and could not do anything. But Chauvin maintained his position. Shortly thereafter, the child told his mother she should go sit on the couch, as he was alright. The mother said ok, and added that the officer had hit the child with a flashlight for no reason.
Although the child’s ear was actively bleeding and he repeatedly told the officers he was in pain, the officers continued to restrain him instead of administering medical treatment. At approximately 9:21 – seven minutes after applying the neck restraint and taking the child to the ground the child asked to be placed on his back because his neck really hurt. The child then began crying. At approximately 9:22, the child again asked to be placed on his back. Chauvin asked if he would be “flopping around at all,” and the child responded “no.” Chauvin simply said “better not.” Still Chauvin maintained his knee on the child’s upper back area. Another officer searched the child. At approximately 9:25, the child sobbed and coughed. He was also able to move his head from side to side, as Chauvin’s knee was on his upper back area. At approximately 9:28, the child talked calmly with the officers and described where in the house they could find his shoes. Chauvin still maintained his knee on the child’s upper back.
At approximately 9:29 – about 15 minutes after Chauvin first restrained the child a paramedic arrived and asked the child what happened. The child said a cop hit him with a flashlight and he “blacked out for a minute.” He added that he was having pain in his ear and confirmed that is where he got hit. At 9:29:47, the paramedic looked at the child’s ear and said he would need stitches.
At approximately 9:31, Chauvin told the child he was under arrest for domestic assault and obstruction with force. The child asked what obstruction with force is, and Chauvin said “because you were told you were under arrest and then this whole show in here. You don’t get to do that.” As Chauvin and Walls tightened the handcuffs, Chauvin removed his knee from the child’s back, some 17 minutes after restraining him to the floor and kneeling on him. At approximately 9:33, Chauvin and Walls helped the child roll to one side and stand up. They then walked him to the ambulance.
The state referred to the Sept. 2017 matter as “Incident 6” in arguments which sought to introduce Chuavin’s so-called “other bad acts” to the jury which heard the murder case involving the death of George Floyd. Judge Peter Cahill, who presided over Chauvin’s state murder trial, refused to allow evidence of “Incident 6” into the Floyd murder case, but he did allow the state to present evidence of two other past use-of-force incidents involving Chauvin. Employing Minnesota Rule of Evidence 404(b), Cahill ruled that “Incident 6” was not relevant to prove Chauvin’s modus operandi or a common scheme or plan of criminal activity. Further employing the classic evidence law balancing test contained within Rule 403, Cahill concluded that allowing prosecutors to use “Incident 6” at trial would have been more prejudicial to the defendant than it would have been probative to the key legal issues in the Floyd case.
Chauvin’s defense attorneys argued that unlike death of George Floyd, “Incident 6” was a domestic matter.
“When Mr. Chauvin attempted to place the suspect under arrest, the suspect actively resisted arrest,” wrote defense attorney Eric J. Nelson on November 16, 2020. “The Use of Force policy in effect at the time permitted the use of a neck restraint against actively resisting arrestees.”
The State makes a point of noting that the suspect was rolled onto his stomach and cuffed while Mr. Chauvin used his knee and body weight to pin the suspect to the floor. As noted previously, this is how MPD officers are trained to handcuff individuals — particularly suspects who are resisting. Again, there is no marked similarity between Incident 6 and the George Floyd incident. Mr. Chauvin’s application of force during Incident 6 was reported to supervisors and cleared. It was reasonable and authorized under the law as well as MPD policy. Incident 6 is simply not admissible.
Though Nelson successfully kept the September 4, 2017 incident out of the George Floyd murder trial, Derek Chauvin now faces legal jeopardy over the matter in the newly unsealed federal case against him.
The federal indictment alleges two counts of Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law under 18 U.S.C. § 242. It broadly states that Chauvin violated the juvenile suspect’s Fourth Amendment right “to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes the right to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer.”
The statute under which Chauvin is charged in reference to the 2017 incident makes Chauvin eligible for up to a 10-year sentence. However, in the George Floyd case, the same federal statute authorizes a much tougher sentence.
[image via via Minnesota Department of Corrections]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]